The train ride to Lucknow every summer! That was our annual ritual. Our dadur bari (maternal grandfather’s house) was in Lucknow. During the summer breaks, my mom would head there with her three little girls in tow (my twin sisters and me) – two identical 2-year olds and one 5-year old. Those times are etched in my memory, travelling to Lucknow in the first-class coach of a coal engine train, a journey that I used to so enjoy!
Train ride was a ritual then. We would first fly to Kolkata from Agartala, stay with our boro pishi (bari bua) for a couple of days before boarding the train to Lucknow from Howrah station. I remember my mom and boro pishi staying up late the night before, preparing food for the long train ride – tiffin carriers full of puri, sukha aloo sabzi & achaar and home-made sweets. And of course, there would be bread, cakes, biscuits, toffees, powder milk and what not. Our older cousins, who would come to see us off, would buy a ghara from the station that would be washed and filled with drinking water and placed in our first-class compartment. Clamouring with excitement we would board the train with mom, all set for the journey that used to take two days and one night then.
I remember waving happily at our cousins as the train would start moving. “The station is moving back,” my sisters would excitedly yell. I would wait for the train to move out of the city to the country side – trees, mud houses, acres and acres of rice or some other crop growing in the fields, cattle’s grazing. I remember trying to imagine the lives of the people living in those villages and small towns that the train would pass through. I remember imagining, even wishing, I could live in small hut in one of those villages. Viewed through the window of the train, those green villages looked so beautiful and perfect. Sometimes I would crane my neck out of the window, lost in those sceneries, to be chided by my mom. Sometimes, flying fragments of coal from the engine would get stuck in my eyes, much to my mom’s annoyance. I didn’t mind the discomfort though.
We would go to bed after a delicious puri sabzi dinner in the moving training. Somehow nothing can match the taste of that cold puri sabzi & achaar. Mom would make beds, railways didn’t provide beddings then, so she used to carry bed sheets and air pillows. After a dreamy night in the moving and whistling train we would be woken up in the morning by tea vendors and various other hawkers. Queuing up before the washroom in the morning, brushing our teeth in the steel wash basin before a breakfast of bread butter, there’s something unforgettable about those train rides. Something unforgettable about those villages and towns that I will probably never get to visit, those small stations, strangers waiting for their trains at those station looking at us or maybe through us.
Finally, our destination would arrive. We would jump at joy as dadu (nanaji) would approach our coach, get us off the train and take us home in a horse drawn tanga.